Illawarra have bounced back from their tough defeat last weekend to run out 24-16 victors over Wentworthville Magpies in a tough encounter on Sunday afternoon.
Luciano Leilua put in an outstanding individual performance as he continually tested the Magpies defence with some strong carries whilst also working tirelessly in defence, whilst Halfback Shaun Nona showed his class as he inspired three consecutive tries in the first half with pin-point kicking and dynamic running game. The Magpies were valiant in their defeat, but failed to take advantage of their chances with a host of handling errors in the dying stages of the contest.
Perfect conditions at WIN Stadium gifted both teams the perfect opportunity to showcase their respective attacking abilities, and it was Illawarra who had the first early chance but couldn’t break through the committed defence of the Magpies.
They were rewarded for their defensive efforts with consecutive penalties on the back of the turnover, but couldn’t capitalise on their chances with a error on Illawarra’s goal line.
The early stages were fuelled with some physical defence from the Magpies and a series of offloads from the home team, but neither side could find a breakthrough despite a clever kick and re-gather effort from Kalifa FaiFai Loa.
Illawarra dominated possession in the opening 15 minutes of the contest and eventually found the line after five-eight Jack Payne darted through the defence and crashed over to score.
It didn’t take long for Illawarra to extend their lead after Siliva Havili barged his way over from dummy half, with Nona again converting to take a commanding 12-0 lead after 25 minutes.
A brilliant offload from Luciano Leilua off the resulting kick-off sent halfback Shaun Nona into open space, only for the dynamic number 7 to be brought down by fullback Honeti Tuha. Illawarra made the most of the dominant field position, with Nona again involved with a neat grubber for left-centre Levi Dodd who crossed for their third try of the afternoon.
The Magpies were certainly on the back-foot after conceding three unanswered tries, but George Jennings continued to spark his side with a break down the left hand touchline. The opportunity went astray with another costly error, but a mistake from Illawarra saw their resilience rewarded as Bureta Faraimo crossed in the corner thanks to a classy backline movement.
The halftime siren was sounding just as Fai Fai Loa snatched an intercept, only to be brought down by Tuha and some desperate Magpies defence. The exciting opening 40 eventually came to an end, with Illawarra grasping a handy 16-4 advantage over a fighting Magpies outfit.
The Magpies came out firing in the opening stages of the second half, with winger Scott Schulte showing brilliant speed down the sideline to eventually beat Dufty and score his team’s second of the afternoon. Jamal Fogarty converted from the sideline reducing the lead to just one converted try after 45 minutes.
Illawarra soon earned themselves consecutive sets on the opposition try-line thanks to the astute kicking game of Nona and Payne, and it eventually paid off after Dufty burst onto an inside ball and showed sheer pace to evade the fullback and cross underneath the posts.
The game was far from over as both teams fought hard to earn themselves valuable field position, and the Magpies finally took advantage of their chances with Jeff Robson scoring under the posts to set the score at 22-16 with just 20 minutes remaining.
A penalty from the Magpies right in front of the posts allowed for Nona to make the most of the opportunity and calmly extended the lead to 8 points with just under 15 minutes to go in the game.
Leilua nearly capped off a barnstorming display - again causing havoc for the defence as he broke the Magpies defence and was eventually held one metre out from the line. Despite a host of chances from the Magpies to do any more damage, Illawarra held their lead and ran out 24-16 victors and record their first win of the season.